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>> in an interview conducted on the campus of george mason university in virginia during the book best of all, booktv talk to reyna grande about her memoir, "the distance between us." in the book she talks about her experience growing up in mexico without her parents immigrated to the united states illegally to find work. this is about half an hour.
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>> host: reyna grande, what is [speaking in spanish] >> guest: [speaking in spanish] the way i grew up knowing [speaking in spanish] was a reference to the united states. but to me, because i grew up in this hometown surrounded by mountains and i didn't know where the united states was, to me it was the other side of the mountain. during that time that my parents were gone, working here in the u.s., i would look at the mountains and think my parents were on the other side of those mountains. post a word as you grow up -- which is where we borne? >> guest: i was born in mexico and a little town that nobody has heard of. but when i mentioned, it is three hours away. >> host: when did your parents come to the united states? how old were you?
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>> guest: my father came in 1877 when i was two years old and he sent for another three years later. savanna that came in 1980 when i was four and a half years old. poster wanted to come to the united states? >> guest: i came to the united states in 1985. in may of 1985 i was nine and a half, going on 10. >> host: what can you tell us about coming to the united states? what was your track? >> guest: well, i'd been separated from my father for eight years come this when he to mexico, my siblings and i convinced him to bring us back here because he wasn't going to come back to mexico and we didn't want to spend any more time separated from him. so we take him to bring us here. my father didn't want to bring me because i was nine and a half and he thought it would be able to make it across the border because we had to run across illegally. so i begged him to bring me here
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and we took a bus from mexico city to tijuana. >> host: right on the border. just go right on the border. and it was a very long today best night because i had rarely been in any kind of cars or any public transportation and i got car sick many, many times along the way. but when we got to the border, my father hired a smuggler to bring us across. >> host: what you burden i'm sure you remember about that experience? >> guest: i remember how much walking their ways. i remember having a lot of guilt because my father was right. i was too little to be making that kind of crossing and i would get tired and complain about the walking and the fact that i was thirsty or hungry and tired. my father ended up carrying me a lot of times on his back. am i got caught the first two times by border patrol. i just felt this immense guilt
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because i thought it was my fault we had gotten caught. another third time. >> host: what happens when you get caught, reyna grande? >> guest: when we get caught, we got loaded up into a vm that everyone else i got caught and were taken to the border patrol offices. i don't remember a whole lot because we were children, we were really talks to you by border patrol. they would take my father into an office and talked to him. and i remember just waiting for him in the hallway in the border patrol people were very nice to us. and i remember they even offered to give us a soda. so they produce noticeably richer and keep our soda, waiting for her dad. so it was this mixed feeling come over with and treated very kindly by the border patrol, but at the same time, knowing that they were keeping us from crossing and from being able to have a chance at having our
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father back in our lives. >> host: reyna grande, the third time? >> guest: the third tablet across the border was very scary because my father decided to try it in the dead of night, hoping that the dirt this would protect us and help us to cross. and he was right. it was pitch black. we couldn't see where're going in a lot of time were tripping on rocks and stumbling. and then when i remember most about the border crossing with a tear. there's a helicopter that came by with a searchlight and we were running for advice, trying to find a place to hide. and we crawled under the bushes. i remember that the beam of niobate lma shoe and i was praying so hard that the people in the cockpit hadn't seen me. and luckily they didn't. so we made it across.
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>> host: ready to spend the the first night? >> guest: by the 10 related across the border, it was dawn and we walked to the second house and he was responsible for driving us to l.a. and he made us lie down in the back seat and he wouldn't let us say that because he said we could go to go to go to by border patrol. so i spent the whole car ride a sickly lying down. and it wasn't until we got ncn anna when he said okay, you can get up now. and so, seeing all the things outside the window is so amazing. i remember all the pine trees. -- palm trees. just streets that seem to never end in the building reach the sky. it was just amazing. there was really amazing.
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>> host: portages of an alley when you when you first got here? >> guest: when i got to l.a. lived in highland park which is northeast los angeles. it was predominately latino community. >> host: mostly illegal? >> guest: i think it was a combination. yeah, there were a lot of immigrant families, but they're also legal legal and illegal families. >> host: out of the legal dispute the ev goes? >> guest: i'm not too sure about that because as a child, i don't think i was too aware of that kind of response from the adults. but what i do remember the most is being shocked when i got to school at that most of the kids in my classroom were dark skinned than that of the show slake me and they had last names like garcia and gonzalez and fernandez and they could speak a language i couldn't speak. and i was really shocking to me
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because they looked exactly like me and get newer. i would say that was probably the first time i was really aware of the fact that they were latinos, but they were different from me. >> host: viewer in esl classes come english as a second language classes? was that -- was not a second-class class citizen type thing? >> guest: yeah, definitely. being an esl student is who you are and that way people treat you like an outsider. definitely there is a sense of separation because the kids that speak english, they hang out in their own circles and then to esl kids would often come hang out in the classroom. and i do remember like wanting
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to fit in, but not being able to because i was an esl student. but i worked very hard at trying to finish my esl classes and get out of that program. so by the time i was in eighth grade, i was enrolled in the killer eighth-grade language. >> host: reyna grande, there's a picture were going to show on the air now a view with a saxophone. telesat story. >> guest: the saxophone was something i discovered when i was at burbank junior high school in seventh grade. my counselor and ruled me in band. it wasn't some nhs. they put me there. it was an elective, which i didn't elect. but i was so lucky to have been put in that class because when i walked in there and the teacher said, which instrument do you want play? at first i thought i had to pay for them. i said how much does it cost? and when he said it doesn't cost you any name, it just seemed
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like the whole world opened up to me. and i got to choose whichever instrument i wanted and i saw the saxophone and it was so beautiful and that was the one i wanted. >> host: do you still play today? >> guest: i don't play anymore, and i haven't played since it graduated from city college because i never owned my own facts. they didn't have marching band comes that didn't have anything to join and then i discovered a whole bunch of other things. you know, i got into dance, film and video, all these other things that i was doing. and i really missed the saxophone and i wanted to get back into playing. and one of my teachers pulled me aside one day, and she said you know, reyna come as good this year created them up to explore learn the things, but you need to choose one thing that you
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want to focus on because otherwise you're going to be a jack of all trades. and i went home that day and i thought, what is it that i cannot live without? and that's when i decided that writing was the one thing i couldn't live without. and they give up everything else and i focus on my writing. >> host: while you are in a novelist, an award-winning novelist. across an american mountains won a book award, dancing with butterflies when an international latino polk award in 2010. and this is your first nonfiction, this memoir. this is a very personal memoir. >> host: it is extremely personal, yes. that's the only way i know how to write. even with my fiction, even though it is fiction, it is also inspired by personal experiences. and with the memoir, there were many times when i was afraid to
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go there because it was extremely personal and it wasn't just writing about myself. i was writing about my family, about my parents. and there were many times when i felt that i was writing things that i shouldn't. but then i thought i was going to write a memoir, i needed to be completely honest with the story and to turn my pain and my fear into mainstream, instead of them being my weaknesses. >> host: reyna grande, did you read this book originally in english or spanish? >> guest: i always write in english verse. unfortunately when i came to this country as fast with learning english that i neglected my native tongue. for many years, all i did was eat and buried english to the point that when i got to college, i was a writing tutor
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and i was tutoring native english speakers in teaching them how to her english. but when i was in college, i got exposed to spanish for spanish speakers and that's when i took those classes instead of going to reclaim my native town. but i write in english because it is so natural to me that i don't have to think about the language, the vocabulary as i'm writing. but the times when i try to read in spanish, i have to pick up the dictionary every single minute and i just completely pulls me out of the story because i have to think about the vocabulary. so i think compromise, i write everything in english and then i do my own translations. so i translated across 100 mountains myself. and "the distance between us" will be published in spanish next year and i did the translation also. >> host: dear novel cell phone
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spanish-language? >> guest: my novels don't sell as well as spanish as i do in english and i think that's the case for most books published here in spanish, that the spanish books don't have the same kind as the english books. i think part of that is because, you know, people can -- the readers for spanish books can't afford to buy the book and they don't have access to the books, you know, especially in low-income communities. there's no bookstores anywhere. and they think it's hard for them to really get access to the books. >> host: we are talking with reyna grande this memoir is called "the distance between us: a memoir," published by simon & schuster. reyna grande, tell us the life story. >> guest: the life story?
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demand the kerosene story? >> host: the story when you were to school and they did a sanitation check on you. >> guest: okay, when i came to elementary and fifth-grade, one day the nurse showed up in the teacher said she's come to inspect all the kids for lace. and i was so shocked because i couldn't understand is that it happened in mexico because all of us had lace. we were all poor kids coming to school barefoot and dirty and we all had lice. but in l.a. i just didn't expect it to be lice. for a while i thought i had crossed the border illegally like i had. i got inspect it and it turned out that i had lice and i was so afraid to go home and tell that to my dad because i didn't want
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him to think that i was still the dirty little girl he had left behind in mexico. and i thought he was going to beat me as well because that was his favorite way of disciplining us. and it turned out that my father was not angry at me and he didn't blame me and he didn't beat me. and it was really very beautiful moment because it took me out to the yard and he looked for lice and it cleaned out my hair and he spent like two hours looking through my hair, looking for lice. and he was so gentle when he did it, that it is just such a painfully beautiful moment for me. and then he was telling me stories about when i was a baby but of course i didn't remember. but it was before he came to the u.s., before he left me in mexico, he told me that every time he would come home for lunch during his break, i would be waiting outside with a bowl
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and i would tell him to give me a bath. and i wouldn't let anybody pays me except for him. so every day he would come in basically spent his whole lunch hour just giving me a bath instead of eating. and he said that i wouldn't have it any other way. and when he told me that, i don't know, i thought it was such a beautiful moment that i got to share within. >> host: reyna grande, that's one of the few in your book that's tender and beautiful about your father. >> guest: yes, yes. my father was a very complicated man and he was suffering from alcoholism. he was suffering from also a bat up bringing. his parents were very abusive towards him and unfortunately, he repeated the same cycle with that. as i was writing the memoir, even though i was writing about
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this very hard, painful moments that i spent with him and suffering from a lot of abuse, i also got a chance to revisit all the happy memories. and one of the things that i hope is that my father taught me to value education. he was such a tyrant about it. he often threatened to send me back to mexico if i didn't do well in school. >> host: was that a scary threat? >> guest: it was a scary threat because they really did believe him. i didn't want to go back to mexico and i wanted to make him proud. and then another thing i felt so too was because i begged him to bring me, i felt that i owed him that. i never wanted my father to say, i shouldn't have brought you. andy was that, they really like always motivated me to do well
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in school, to do all these great things that he wanted me to do because i didn't want to hear that i've heard from my dad. and he never said that to me. he didn't. but yeah, as i was writing the book, i really wanted to make sure that he didn't come across as the villain in this story. you know, i really wanted to give him his humanity because he has some really great things, my dad. he was also dealing with a lot of difficulties that unfortunately affected our relationship. >> host: you tell a story and hear how you want to go church was the day anyhow that the budweiser but this is my god. what is your father passed? >> guest: he passed away last year. he died from liver cancer. and he got diagnosed with cirrhosis back in 93 and he never told us that he kept drinking. and he actually gave up drinking in the late 90s.
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he gave up drinking and he became very religious. he was a seven-day adventist. but he never got himself checked and then a year and a half ago, when he went to the doctor, they told him he had liver cancer. and he really held onto the hope that he would get better, that he would get a transplant at some point and he just never came out of the hospital. >> host: did is sober enough change your relationship? >> guest: not too much because by the time he sober., things had gotten way too bad. and even though he had sobered up, he was still very distant. he traded one of session for another. he went from being an alcoholic, obsessed with alcohol, to be in this religious fanatic.
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and i remember a lot of times that my siblings and i would invite him over to our family gatherings. he wouldn't come because he had to be a church. and he always had to be a church. and we always felt like, we lose either way. he could be an alcoholic or he could be religious and were going to lose anyway because he'll never make us his priority. and i remember when i got married, he was going to walk me down the aisle and he was looking at the clock, saying, what tennis is sweating going to start? i have to go to my church, hurry up. and i just felt so hurt because i only get married once to your. your church as they are, it's always going to be there. but he kept looking at his clock and then we were done with the ceremony, he took off right after that. like he stayed for the reception for a little bit, but i felt so horrible the whole time,
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thinking that i'm never going to be more important to my father and other things. and it really hurt me a lot. >> host: where does your mother figure in the story? >> guest: i hardly ever talk about my mother. i have a lot of issues with my mom. anybody who reads the memoir will know why. but my mother, she's still alive. she is still in l.a. she lives about 20 minutes away from me. and it's been actually, now that i've become a writer and i have to travel a lot, i have to state that has in no way helped me to have a better relationship with her because she, like right now that i'm here, she's with my children and she comes over, she takes care of them. so she really tries to help me out whenever she can. and then also, it has really helped me to lenders and like having my own children because i
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can understand now what it's like to be torn between being a mother and being a woman but their own dreams and aspirations. and every time i have to leave my house and my daughter asks me how long i'm going to be gone. i remember my mother and how i would ask her how long she's going to be gone. and i really do understand, you know, how hard it is to be torn into and to want to do right are your kids about the same time want to go off into the world to pursue your dreams. so i have a better relationship with my mother, but definitely there is still an emotional distance and i think it will always be an emotional distance. >> host: because sometimes your mother would be gone for years. just go to guess. >> host: she came to the
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u.s.a. needed even know it. >> guest: yes, and a mother has not changed a whole lot. she is still like that in a way, you know, where she does things and we don't fit into the equation sometimes. and it's been a struggle to try to get her to be a little more motherly. but i think at this point we've come to accept that that's the way she has and we just hate kareshi is. and i think that it helps because then were not disappointed. but i do hope that she can be a better grandmother. and i know people change. i know my great-grandmother, my mother said she wasn't such a great mother to her, but to us, she was the most wonderful grand other in the world. so i'm hoping that's the way my children feel for her as well,
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that she's an awesome grandmother. and that's all i want, you know, for my kids to have a good relationship with her. >> host: reyna grande, has your mother been able to read this book, or does she know within that? >> guest: she hasn't been able to read the book because it's in english and a mother does not became flesh. she knows somewhat by the senate because i told her, this is a story about my childhood and about my growing up in the u.s. senate right about you, my dad, but i don't think my mother really understand how i saw her as a daughter and how her actions determined my childhood, you know, and how my childhood was really defined by her actions. i don't think she understands that.
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so i'm curious to see what she's going to say when the spanish version comes out. >> host: "the distance between us," has anyone can hear this too, what i've read it, i thought about angela's ashes. >> guest: yes, we'll have to write some reviews for "the l.a. times." that's what he can you get to his review. and i was just like beyond honored to be even in the same sentence as angela's ashes because it is such a wonderful book and is one of my favorite books. and for someone to say that my book is the angeles ashes of the mexican immigrant experience, i was just really thrilled. there are similarities. you know, we both talk about poverty, about a relationship with her parents, just
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struggling to overcome all the obstacles and being able to go above nine but without we ever could. so there's many similarities, although i think one of the best things about angela's ashes is there is so much humor that allen says all that depressing stuff that he writes about. and i'm not very humorous, unfortunately. i would love to write more humor in my work, but i write from a very deep place that has mostly paying and sadness and that's where my writing comes from. and i was thinking, you know, i was thinking about frida kahlo, one of my idols and i was thinking how similar we are in
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now way because she also painted from a place of pain. and that's the way i write. and when i'm happy, i cannot write when i'm happy. and sometimes become a has-been, because he's so wonderful. and that you're going to have to make me miserable because i cannot write. i'm too happy here. so sometimes it is very hard to write when i feel good. >> host: reyna grande, do you think your experience coming across the border, growing up the way he did as an illegal immigrant, is that a common experience teaching? >> guest: it's definitely very common. especially my experience of being a child left behind, been separated from their parents and then being brought to the u.s. as a child by my parents is very common. i mean, when i was researching this topic, i learned that 80% of the lap american children in
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u.s. schools get separated from a parent in the process of migration. so that's a lot of kids that are being separated from who are coming here, you know, as undocumented child immigrants. and so, definitely makes. he's not unique. but there's not a whole lot of awareness. or when people talk about immigration, very seldom do they consider coming in now, that other side of immigration, which is about the children who get left the hind, who later come to the u.s. to be reunited with their parents. and we don't talk about how immigration breaks up families and how it takes a toll on the whole family. so this is one of the reasons why i wanted to write about this because it is something -- it's an experience that defel

Book TV
CSPAN October 21, 2012 7:00am-7:30am EDT

Reyna Grande Education. (2012) 'The Distance Between Us A Memoir.'

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